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blem we are finally led to quite simple equations; in Hennite's
incomparably more difficult problem the upshot is again an
equation (of degree 7Z4}, and the unexpected thing about this
equation is that it can be solved algebraically, that is, by
Barred from the Polytechnique by his lameness, Hermite
now cast longing eyes on the teaching profession as a haven
where he might earn his living while advancing his beloved
mathematics. The career should have been flung wide open to
him, degree or no degree, but the inexorable rules and regula-
tions made no exceptions. Red tape always hangs the wrong
man, and it nearly strangled Hermite.
Unable to break himself of his 'pernicious originality', Her-
mite continued his researches to the last possible moment when,
at the age of twenty-four, he abandoned the fundamental dis-
coveries he was making to master the trivialities required for
his first degrees (bachelor of letters and science). Two harder
ordeals would normally have followed the first before the
young mathematical genius could be certified as fit to teach, but
fortunately Hermite escaped the last and worst when influential
friends got him appointed to a position where he could mock the
examiners. He passed his examinations (hi 1847-8) very badly,
But for the friendliness of two of the inquisitors - Sturm and
Bertrandj both fine mathematicians who recognized a fellow
craftsman when they saw one - Hermite would probably not
have passed at all. (Hermite married Bertrand's sister Louise in
By an ironic twist of fate HermiteTs first academic success
was his appointment in 1848 as an examiner for admissions to
the very Polytechnique which had almost failed to admit him.
A few months later he was appointed quiz master (repetitewr) at
the same institution. He was now securely established in a niche
where no examiner could get at him. But to reach this 'bad
eminence' he had sacrificed nearly five years of what almost
certainly was his most inventive period to propitiate the
stupidities of the official system.
Having finally satisfied or evaded bis rapacious examiners,
Hermite settled down to become a great mathematician. His